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What is the correct brace position (a.k.a. crash position) for car accidents? The Wikipedia page on brace position focuses on airplane accidents.

https://www.casa.gov.au/standard-page/emergency indicates the brace position is different between cars and airplanes:

The common misconception that leaning forward and placing your head against a stationary object is unsafe probably comes from motor vehicle travel. Sitting upright in an accident is approved behaviour in a motor vehicle, however it is unsuitable for air travel because of the lack of shoulder harnesses and airbags in aircraft.


Edited to answer a comment the question received (I am apparently not allowed to point to which one): one can sometimes see in advance that a car crash may happen, and the car may have passengers. I don't think knowing a crash is coming is hard-to-imagine circumstance: it happened to me, you can look around for Youtube videos, there are 123,000 head-on collisions per year in the US, and car accidents are much more common than airplane accidents. But it is up to you to decide not to be prepared (Darwinian selection).

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There is no brace position because you will not have warning of a car crash. Think about it. If there was warning, why would there be a crash? The driver would use the warning to avoid the crash. Unlike a pilot who must land the plane eventually regardless of conditions, a car driver can simply stop the car and get out.

If, under some hard-to-imagine circumstance, you did know a crash was coming, the correct brace position would be simply sitting in a normal position. That's because that's the position auto designers assume you will be in and they design safety systems accordingly. In fact, they more than make that assumption -- they enforce it. When the crash detection system is activated, the first thing that happens is small explosives go off in the seatbelt mechanism causing it to retract tightly and forcibly, pulling you back against the seat and away from the airbags. So bracing your head against the dash or seat in front of you would be futile even if you tried. You would be yanked backwards against the seat.

The one thing you absolutely must never do is have a child or pet on your lap. They are at great risk of being injured or killed by the airbag crushing them against your chest, which is likely to also injure you severely.

Crash protection features

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  • "If there was warning, why would there be a crash?" --> Because the brakes don't allow you to immediately stop the car. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 15 '17 at 15:37
  • @FranckDernoncourt: But one can drive around the obstacle to prevent collision if there is a warning. Unless your driving against a straight wall, I presume, yet even then you can try to turn your car with 180 degree. In my experience, you only have an "oh shoot"-moment before the crash and only very few humans are able to react in that short period of time. – Narusan Apr 18 '17 at 11:52
  • @Narusan sometimes you can drive around the obstacle to prevent collision. Sometimes it's not possible or not preferable. E.g., see some car races or some car accidents on YouTube. You may also be the passenger in which case you can try to brace yourself while the drive that is attempting to avoid the collision. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 18 '17 at 13:48
  • @FranckDernoncourt Does it really matter? As I said in the answer, if the collision occurs you're going to be forced into an upright sitting position whether you like it or not, so what brace position could you even assume? – Carey Gregory Apr 18 '17 at 13:54
  • @CareyGregory I cannot write answers in the comments on this Stack Exchange website, but for example F1 race drivers do receive some advice on what to do in case they see that are going to crash, and that's for a reason. – Franck Dernoncourt Apr 18 '17 at 13:55

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